Wednesday, August 28, 2013

March on Washington - Flashback


1983.  Summer.  Washington DC.  My mom and I were visiting her family there, as we did every summer. This, though, was the summer of the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington.  Mom was a volunteer and she took me with her.  I was just a little kid, but she took me everywhere and so with our yellow volunteer t-shirts we both ended up being part of the human fence that held back the crowds (300,000 people!).  This fence was an endless line of volunteers in yellow shirts linked together hand in hand around the inner perimeter of the Mall.  We were meant to be a protective barrier, but we faced the stage not the crowds, so we were able to watch the entire event.  It was almost like having the best seats in the house. But more than the speeches and the stars, I remember the kinetic energy of the crowds behind us, but it was a gentle, safe energy.  I mean, I was a little kid, anyone could have easily pushed me over, but no one did.  It was orderly and everyone was looking out for one another.  It was love.  En masse.  That’s that I felt.  And in front of me was the beautiful Reflecting Pool.  Clean, quiet and serene.  I watched that water and its gentle ripples just as much as I watched the podium... There was an impressive roster of speakers, but I only remember recognizing three:  Jesse Jackson, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder; and, honestly, the one who stood out most for me then was Stevie Wonder.  He performed “Happy Birthday” and EVERYONE sang along loudly, proudly, weeping and laughing at the same time.  It was hot, in the crazy humid way that DC gets in August, so after the speeches, all the volunteers unlinked their hands and crowds swarmed through into the Reflecting Pool to cool off.  We spent the rest of the day sitting on the lawn with new friends, talking and playing.  It was like a giant community picnic – or like a massive family reunion. That’s what I remember.

I'm so grateful to my Mom for taking me that day.  I feel so lucky to have witnessed that incredible event.  It makes today's 50th anniversary even more personal.

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